<span style="">Choices and Opportunities.
Saints middle linebacker Jonathan Vilma had them both, aplenty.
A season after being acquired by the Saints in a complicated trade with today's opponent, the New York Jets, Vilma had the chance and opportunity to test the NFL's free agent waters for the first time in his young career and build upon his carefully managed nest egg that got off to a rollicking start as the 12th overall player selected in the 2004 NFL Draft.
But deep down, Vilma knew where he wanted and needed to be: in a Saints uniform.
The 6-1, 230 pound former standout for the Miami Hurricanes is many things away from the football: loyal, well-spoken, sincere, out-going, studious and above all, serious about his chosen career. Thus, when the time came to make a life-changing decision, Vilma elected to re-sign with the Saints on a five-year contract and continue to focus on doing his part to enhance the Black-and-Gold's defensive standings.
"A lot went into my decision to re-sign with the Saints," Vilma said. "The first thing a player has to ask himself is 'am I happy here?' The answer, unequivocally, was yes. The second thing is 'do I have an important role with the team or is there a team where it would be a better fit', and once again, my conversations with (Saints Executive Vice President/General Manager) Mickey Loomis, Coach Payton, (defensive coordinator) Gregg Williams and (assistant head coach/linebackers coach) Joe Vitt were all really positive. They are all straight shooters and don't play games."
"Lastly," Vilma said, "was the fact that this is an unbelievable locker room and there are great teammates in here? Guys that you know you can compete for a championship with, and that's huge."
Vilma's re-signing was a key move in the team's off-season rebuilding efforts, and it was carried to a higher level when he was named one of the team's captains upon the conclusion of training camp, a role he shares with quarterback Drew Brees and special teams stalwart Troy Evans.
"That is a very important role that we all take seriously," Vilma said of his captaincy. "A lot goes into it, and the three of us have different styles of leadership, which I believe is really important to have because you don't want a bunch of puppets who are just regurgitating some message."
Vilma's evolution into a leadership role wasn't an immediate one that he was anointed to upon his acquisition in 2008, and that, he said, was by choice. "I have a ton of respect for my teammates, particularly guys like Scott (Fujita), Mark (Simoneau) and Scott (Shanle). They all played together for a few seasons before I got here and they are close, both as teammates and friends, and I respected that. I wasn't going to walk in here and announce myself as the new guy. I had to earn their trust and respect, and that was made a bit more difficult because I was coming off a pretty serious injury that kept me rehabbing a lot, Early on when I first was traded here I was in the training room much more than I was actually on the field. So I was an unknown to them," Vilma said.
Eventually Vilma bounded on to the scene as a defensive standout for the Saints, leading the team in tackles last season with 151, the second-most in his five-year career. Fujita, among others, admired Vilma's contributions. "He's a beast," the veteran linebacker said. "He came in and fit right in and he's been a big part of what we are trying to accomplish. You know what you are going to get every single day from him and above and beyond his obvious talents it's his consistency, energetic play and his understanding of this defense. He's the guy making the calls out there for us and we trust him."
For his part, Vilma was excited to face his former teammates last week, and harbors no ill will towards the team that traded him to the Saints. "They did me a favor and we left on good terms," Vilma said. "But make no mistake, it felt great to get that win. At the end of the season hopefully we can look back on it and just count it as another "W", but it certainly felt good after the game and heading into the bye. It's the way you want to go into your off week."
This season Vilma has racked up 25 tackles, a sack and two passes defensed and is a key member of the team's top ten ranked defense and a major reason why the team owns a 4-0 record entering their idle weekend.
Payton is glad to have him in his lineup and thinks that his versatility in having played in various defenses adds to the uniqueness that the Coral Gables native brings to the table. "He has played in a lot of different sets and front and knows not only what he has to do, but what everyone on the defense has to do to be successful. He's smart and he is an excellent communicator."
Vilma has often credited his former defensive coordinator at the University of Miami, their current head coach, Randy Shannon, for helping him learn how to watch and diagnose opposing team game film at an early age. "I learned how to watch for all the little things an offensive player might do to tip off a play," he said. "It might be how a guard sets his hands on a run play as opposed to a pass play. It might be the stance of a tight end. It might be the position of their helmet on the line, a lot of things. But Coach Shannon always had us looking for those things and obviously the bigger things, like formations, motions and keys. Once you start really getting into it, it becomes a huge part of your off-the-field preparation each week."
Thus, in a city like New Orleans with as many enticing night life opportunities that the Big Easy offers, Vilma makes sure each week that he has put the necessary preparation into his portfolio heading into each game. "It's part of the weekly work, I have to do it, I don't know any other way," Vilma said.
In Vilma's eyes, it's all about the opportunities and choices. In essence, a true Saint.
An Inside Look at "JV"
* Three-time All-Academic All-Big East at Miami
*2004 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year
*2005 Pro Bowler
*2008 Ed Block Courage Award Winner (as voted by his teammates)
*2009 New Orleans Saints Team Captain
Notable: Vilma, of Haitian descent, had ambitions of a career as a doctor early in his life and learned the German language in order to possibly forge a career practicing medicine in foreign countries.
Vilma's Inside Pitch
Jonathan Vilma, star linebacker for the unbeaten New Orleans Saints, is taking fans inside the locker room through status updates and photos posted to PlayMaker Mobile, a new mobile application that allows the biggest names in professional sports to connect with fans in real-time.
Vilma just played against his former team, the New York Jets, and led a defense that lifted the Saints to their first 4-0 start in 16 years. He even overcame a questionable hit by Jets rookie quarterback Mark Sanchez and shared the experience on PlayMaker Mobile.
"The Sanchez hit was a perfect example of me putting the team before myself. I could have easily gotten up and gone over there and pushed him, or did something to react, and then, I'd get in trouble, get a penalty that would hurt the team. I had no idea he was gonna do it. When he did it, I was ready to get up and sock him one, but I restrained myself. I saw the flags come out and I know it's a long game so I said let's just take the points and get the victory. He did call me and apologize today. I'm not mad. He's a rookie who didn't know any better. He said himself he saw six guys coming at him and he didn't know what to do. He sees Sharper running down the sideline and six guys running at him, and I guess that's just one of those rookie mental errors for him."
Vilma is one of 12 playmakers using PlayMaker Mobile to connect with fans through live chats and exclusive text updates, photos and videos. Other athletes on the PlayMaker Mobile roster include Ray Lewis (Baltimore Ravens), Yao Ming (Houston Rockets), Jeremy McGrath (Supercross Champion), Donovan McNabb (Philadelphia Eagles), Steve Nash (Phoenix Suns), Antonio Pierce (New York Giants), Gretchen Bleiler (Snowboard Champion), Lolo Jones (American Track star), Greg Oden (Portland Trail Blazers), Adrian Wilson (Arizona Cardinals) and Rajon Rondo (Boston Celtics).
Created through a partnership between Konami and SC Investments Consulting, PlayMaker Mobile is available to Verizon Wireless customers for $4.99 in the Get It Now virtual store (by going to Tools and Applications > Sports). The application will be available on the iPhone and other major mobile carriers later this year.